Well, it was another great but extremely busy weekend that simply flew by.
We got on the road about 12:30 Friday afternoon, heading for Johnstown, PA for the Ameriserv Flood City Music Festival (formerly the Johnstown Folk Fest). Though we've attended this for most of the last decade, we weren't sure just what to expect this year. There were a lot of changes made in addition to the name change, the biggest of which, was a change in dates. This event has always been held on Labor Day Weekend and the committee decided to change the date by several weeks this year "to allow the college students to attend before returning to school for the semester" and to avoid conflicting with several other events in the area.
We've always liked the multiple events going on in the one weekend. We managed to attend this event all three days in the past and made stops each day at another 3-day event in the immediate area as well as attending a large craft show on that Saturday. They actually ran all-day free shuttles between the two festivals in past years and we would go back and forth between the two depending on what music was playing at which at any given time. With only the one event going on, we felt a bit of a letdown as our music selections were much more limited. In fact, this festival cut back by one stage (triggered by the economy and less corporate sponsorship). Also, since Monday was a work day, we had to leave early on Sunday for the trip home missing all of the festival on that day. This has always been a Fri-Sun event, leaving Monday open for traveling.
Other changes included instituting an admission fee. We felt the cost was reasonable as such festivals go - $5 for Friday and $10 each on Saturday and Sunday. However, many people complained about the "high" price since they had become very accustomed to "free." They labeled the fee a "Donation" and there were a number of diehards who argued the wording. We know of one person who insisted he was only "donating" $5 as a couple on Friday. They were granted admission. We also watched someone enter on Saturday for free after arguing the meaning of "donation." I believe they must use that wording to maintain their non-profit status but they do need to figure a better way of labeling the charge.
There were definitely less acts offered throughout the festival and more small local entertainers than in the past. The variety was also more limited. In the past, zydeco acts always attracted the largest crowds and normally played at least two of the days. They had no zydeco this year and many folks commented on the omission. There are also usually at least one gospel group and something along the classical lines. Again, nothing of the sort on this year's schedule. This year's lineup seemed a bit heavy on the bluegrass and Celtic influences. In general, most of the groups just weren't up to the caliber of past acts.
The two largest headliners, The Derek Trucks Band (well known in the blues festival world) and Bill Kirchen (of Commander Cody fame) were both scheduled for later Sunday evening when even locals needed to call it a day and head home to prep for Monday morning. I did regret missing Derek Trucks but we have caught Bill earlier this season. He always gives a high-energy rousing performance and we were sorry to miss him too.
Out of the eleven acts we saw, there were a few high points. A Vermont group, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were fantastic. They appeared to have climbed aboard a time-machine at Woodstock and landed at this 2009 event! They were billed as "neoclassic rock and roll" and, if you closed your eyes, you could believe you were seeing the reincarnation of Janis Joplin! They've toured with Dave Matthews, Gov't Mule and Taj Mahal. They definitely rocked the joint. We believed we got our money's worth from the admission for this act alone.
The other group we found interesting was The Clumsy Lovers out of Vancouver. They kind of blend bluegrass with rock to form their own genre. All were excellent musicians, particularly the fiddle and banjo players - and, yes, you can play some fairly hard rock on a fiddle!! (Especially when accompanied by a banjo.)
For the most part, we probably wouldn't knock ourselves out to go to our local park for a free concert by any of the others we heard this weekend. (We traveled 200 miles, one way, for this one!)
They've also destroyed the excitement of the great food we were used to at this event. The committee switched to a single vendor for food services this year supposedly to provide more efficient service, higher quality and a more uniform pricing system. They lost on all three points. There were no real lines at the food stands as in past years but that was because of the poor selection and tasteless food quality. There was less than a third of the variety as in the past. It may be the first festival we've attended in years that did not have any pizza or popcorn offerings. They had hotdogs and hamburgers but the only condiments available were packets of ketchup and mustard. I think those who attended on Friday noted this and made a point of eating elsewhere on Saturday before attending the event. I even saw one woman openly carrying a Subway sandwich! I'm sure her meal tasted better than ours!
Our little "gang" always attends this festival, more as an excuse to get together and party all weekend than anything else. This was no exception. Although one couple among us could not make it this year do to surgery earlier in the week, another pair traveled from South Carolina for the event. We haven't seen them for over seven months so we were thrilled to get together again. It is definitely our belief that we carry our own fun with us. Just being together is always an adventure so it was a great nonstop weekend of partying, eating (we did have some good food at home) and fine tuning plans for our beach vacation together this Fall (another annual event).
We will probably attend again next year, barring any obstacles thrown our way. (Unfortunately, I doubt that our friends will make the 600 mile trip next year.) We will hope they improve the food service and expand the variety of music a bit to resemble the selection offered in the past. I will personally hope they move it back to Labor Day weekend. I did not notice a large increase in "college aged" folks and Friday had a tremendously poorer attendance than in past years. (While they wanted to get more younger attendees, they did not gear the music to that age group.)
Saturday had a very good crowd but nowhere near the numbers of the past. The organizers, of course, put their own spin on things and indicated the crowds were much larger than in the past. All we can say is, we never had trouble finding a seat for a performance and one could walk freely through the event. In the past, you needed to get to a stage well before the act began to find a seat and, in the evening, passage along the paths between stages moved at a shuffle due to the mobs. This was not the case this year. We will probably plan to eat elsewhere, other than at the festival. That's a shame as the food at this event has always been quite unique and was definitely part of the draw. Many out-of-towners have always traveled in for the event.
We made the long drive home arriving just in time for The Big Guy's weekly pinochle game. He has been playing with same guys, every Sunday for the last 24 years. It's a gentleman's game - no booze just iced tea and a tray of cheese and crackers with some veggies or such. At one time there were 8-10 players every week but, over the years, has dwindled to just three of them but they play EVERY week with very few exceptions. About 15 years ago, the game moved to our house and has remained here every week since. We unloaded the luggage, made iced tea and got the table set up just as they arrived.
So, yes, it was a very FULL weekend.